|Sen. Bryan Hughes responds to criticism of GOP election integrity bill as voter suppression measure. Capitol Inside Photo
Patrick Gives GOP Muscle Monopoly
with Token Senate Dem as Swing Vote
Texas House Power Rankings
April 29, 2021
GOP Senator Rides Sudden
Power Surge Out of Patrick Doghouse with Bill Routings
GOP State Senator Charles Schwertner of Georgetown has bounced back in style after two years in the woodshed with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick as the price of a a sexy texting scandal that featured a University of Texas coed.
GOP State Senator Kel Seliger of Amarillo - in sharp contrast - still appears to be serving time in the Patrick slammer after a bitter confrontation over committee assignments two years ago.
Schwertner's stock has soared in the past week with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick's designation of him as the new Senate sponsor on an unlicensed firearm carry bill that he will handle right out of the gate as the chairman of the Administration Committee.
Patrick had directed all of the gun rights legislation in the current session to the State Affairs Committee until the surprise conception of Senate Bill 2224 on Thursday. But the christening of Schwertner as the top gun guy came with a novel perk on Friday with Patrick's spontaneous creation of a special Senate Committee on Constitutional Issues that he tapped the Georgetown Republican to chair.
Patrick assigned the so-called constitutional carry measure that cleared the House last week to Schwertner's special new panel as the only piece of legislation that it has to consider up to now. Patrick had relocated a Schwertner distilled spirits to go bill to the Administration Committee the previous day after stalling for more than a month in the Business & Commerce Committee.
Patrick busted Schwertner from his job as the Health & Human Services Committee chairmanship in 2019 as a result of the moral transgression that the senator steadfastly denied. The lieutenant governor demonstrated that he'd set Schwertner free from the doghouse when he selected him to sponsor the Senate's comprehensive package of grid reforms last month when the freeze was still the hottest issue in Austin.
Patrick topped off the revival of Schwertner's career as a committee chair earlier this year when he also appointed him to the Finance Committee, the State Affairs Committee and several other prestigious assignments.
After falling out of the top 20 on the Senate rankings in 2019, Schwertner has returned with a splash as the 8th most powerful Texas senator this year thanks in large part to the sudden surge that Patrick's redemption has fueled.
Seliger, the second-longest serving Senate Republican, could be in the lieutenant governor's disfavor eternally after rejecting an assignment as the chair of the committee that deals with agriculture as a consolation for the loss of the Higher Education Committee chairmanship at the start of the session in 2019.
Seliger had been one of the upper chamber's most powerful members for years before Patrick stripped him of seats on the committees that oversee the state budget and education around the state as payback for refusing to march in lockstep with the lieutenant governor. Seliger was ranked in the high echelons of the Senate clout list in 2019 as a result of his potential as a swing vote against Patrick's pet proposals after the clash in the session's early stages.
But Seliger didn't fare much better this time around in the Senate committee assignment competition than he had two years ago - a sign that the sentence for defiance has yet to end. His 2021 at number 18 reflects that.
GOP State Senator Bryan Hughes of Mineola served 14 years in the Texas House and never chaired a standing committee on the west side of the Capitol rotunda. The small-town East Texas lawyer is wielding more clout now in his third regular session across the hall than almost all of his colleagues in the east wing of the statehouse.
Hughes has been a late bloomer - having amassed more sway in three months as the State Affairs Committee chairman than he could have ever imagined as a backbencher on the other side of the rotunda. Hughes didn't get along well with the RINOs who were running the show in the House when Republican Joe Straus was speaker. He's emerged in his third regular session in the Senate as Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick's most trusted ally when it comes to passing hot-button priorities that are designed to please the conservative base.
Republican State Senators Jane Nelson of Flower Mound and Joan Huffman of Houston are ranked as the upper chamber's two most powerful members in the Texas Legislature Power Rankings that Capitol Inside has assembled for the 2021 regular session. Nelson is a 28-year Senate veteran who's the chamber's chief budget architect in her fourth regular session as the Finance Committee chair. Huffman is the chair of both the Jurisprudence Committee and a special panel that will draw a new Senate map later this year in a special session on redistricting.
But Huffman had to give up the State Affairs Committee chairmanship in a tradeoff for the dual role. Hughes hit the ground flying as her replacement at the head of the State Affairs Committee - shepherding a merry-go-round of conservative theme proposals through the chamber on the same day in April as the sponsor of major Patrick priority bills that seek to restrict voting, abortion and social media censorship.
Hughes has been a portrait of chill in sharp contrast as the author of the GOP's election integrity bill - guiding Senate Bill 7 through the upper chamber with a non-confrontational country charm that never got off message and effectively disarmed the Democrats.
Hughes demonstrated the kind of confidence and courage that's rare among GOP leaders and lawmakers in Texas when he appeared this month in an interview on CNN to defend the voting bill in the face of tough questions on its legitimacy and motives. Governor Greg Abbott, Patrick and other Texas Republicans have appeared in recent years to be afraid of doing television interviews with major networks other than Fox News. But Hughes made it look easy to hold his own on the original cable news network that's tantamount to Antifa in the eyes of Texas Republican leaders and lawmakers who've been living in fear of Donald Trump, socialists and their own shadows in some cases.
Patrick turned to Hughes for an unexpected part as the sponsor of a measure the lieutenant governor had the Senate pass in a whirlwind emergency meeting in response to a power pricing feud that stemmed from the Arctic freeze here in February.
The first power rankings for the Legislature during a major global pandemic reflect Patrick's relegation of Democrats to the end of the Senate bench since his emergence as the presiding officer in 2015. Republicans account for all but one of the Texas senators who are ranked among the top 13 on the power chart for 2021. Five Democrats are ranked among the 20 senators with the most clout at the Capitol this spring.
State Senator John Whitmire of Houston is the token Democratic chair in the east wing where he's led the Criminal Justice Committee for the past 18 years under two lieutenant governors for the GOP. Whitmire - the dean of the Senate where he's served since 1983 - is the second highest ranked Democrat on the power chart this time around at number 15.
State Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville has been the major exception to the rule in 2021 - having made the highest vault up the list of clout from 17th two years ago to 7th now. Lucio is tantamount to a standing panel chair as the vice-chairman of the Finance Committee. He serves as the vice-chair on the Education Committee and has plum assignments on the State Affairs Committee and special Redistricting Committee as well.
But Lucio isn't the highest ranked Democrat in the Senate in 2021 simply because of fancy titles. The veteran Rio Grande Valley lawmaker is Patrick's swing vote when needed on an array of issues in the event of a defection by one of his fellow Republicans on a paramount Patrick priority. Patrick pressured Senate Republicans into lowering the threshold for passing legislation to 18 votes after Democrats picked up a seat last fall.
GOP State Senators Larry Taylor of Friendswood and Paul Bettencourt of Houston round out the top five as high-level Patrick allies who chair the Education Committee and the Local Government Committee respectively. Taylor is a close fourth as the Senate Republican Caucus chair who's a member of the Finance Committee as well.
Republican State Senator Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham is 6th on the 2021 power ratings in her second session as the Health & Human Services Committee chair. Kolkhorst's stock went up significantly in Patrick's eyes after she agreed to be the author of the notorious bathroom bill that the Senate passed and the House killed in 2017.
A pair of Senate Republicans who've been Patrick loyalists - State Senators Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills and Brandon Creighton of Conroe - are more like wild cards in terms of the sway they wield now after defying the lieutenant governor on the emergency legislation to overturn charges from the freeze that he says were excessive and illegal. Creighton is ranked 9th in 2021 like he'd been two years ago in his role as the Higher Education Committee chairman. A former GOP Caucus chair in the House, Creighton has been the Legislature's leading advocate for states rights under the 10th Amendment.
Hancock had appeared to be one of Patrick's closest allies before and immediately after the catastrophic storm that caused the state's electricity grid to fail for several days in February. Patrick hasn't said anything publicly to indicate that Hancock is in the dog house with him since the spurning on the emergency power price fixing bill. But there have been signs of potential Patrick retaliation with the reshuffling of Patrick's major energy grid bills from the Business & Commerce Committee that Hancock chairs to the Jurisprudence Committee that Huffman is leading for the first time in 2021. Patrick put a liquor to go bill on a fast track in the Senate this week after removing it from Hancock's committee and sending it to the Administration Committee that its sponsor Republican State Senator Charles Schwertner of Georgetown is chairing.
The appearance of possible punishment has prompted a dip in Hancock's power rating from the 7th spot in 2019 to number 10 on the rankings for the current session.